It will be seen from this piece that George M. Hendee and probably his executives made quite a nice living cranking out Indian motorcycles, and I should point out that the articles this piece came from were published just prior to Mr. Hendee selling out his interest in the company and retiring to his farm in Suffield, CT.
In July 1914, a trade magazine called “Plasterer” published a letter documenting the strike at the Indian Motorcycle Company after workers’ reportedly already modest wages were cut by $1.10 per day. Today we would never notice that amount, a cup of coffee costs more than $1.10, but in 1914 that was a significant amount. A host of other trade magazines published similar accounts in support of the striking workers.
The company had cut their work force from 3,000 men to a mere 500 and union workers called a strike. On January 5th, 1914 the original 125 strikers walked out and in July were still standing out, “steadfastly, loyally, sternly, honestly…” and according to the letter many Eastern tracks had barred Indians from their races in support of the strikers.
Once the story broke and all union workers were encouraged to support the striking workers other comments began to circulate. Switchmen reported in their journal that the company had also refused to use union labor when constructing their buildings.
At a time when the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour week, nor any other fair labor practice was the norm, the union men obviously supported one another when conditions warranted. Some journals went so far as to advise their union employees, “Don’t ride an Indian!” A reduction in sales or the fear of one coupled with at least some tracks banning Indians in races more than likely prompted the company to reach an agreement with the workers.
Union men supporting other Union men is a little easier to understand than tracks harshly banning Indian motorcycles in races for fellows who saved to buy their dream machine only to be turned away from the races.
“The metal polishers have demanded nothing unreasonable of the Hendee Company; the workers on strike have been subsisting carefully, economically, living, indeed, from hand to mouth—but they are living hopefully, buoyantly, and filled with the belief that, as progress indicates, in the end the Hendee Company will be compelled to treat fairly with organized labor—they will have much to charge up to “experience”…These men do not ask alms. Far from it; but they do ask that every loyal unionist remember that the Hendee Indian Motorcycle is produced in a shop that once hired 3,000 men. Remember that this factory, with its millions of capital, now employs 500 men. “
A journal for shoe workers said in July 1914 that the Massachusetts State Board of Arbitration had ruled the wage reduction was a violation of the company’s agreement with its employees and that the Hendee Company was responsible for the continuation of the strike. They recommended that the company take the men back under the same conditions that existed prior to the salary cut. Spokesmen for the company replied in the negative and the strike continued.
Workers’ wages were cut while the company was valued at $12,000,000. In 2016 dollars, that equates to $291,172,966.49. No one would have known in 1914 the full impact WWI would soon have on sales, or even that there would be a war in Europe, but by 1918 sales would increase to the point that the company couldn’t crank out the bikes fast enough. Was this a case of a company already enjoying economic prosperity while poised on the brink of unprecedented sales increases cutting wages?
Per “Our Journal: Official Organ of the M.P.B.P.”, a settlement was reached on July 21, 1914, or as the editor put it, “The Indian Motorcycle Company and their striking polishers and buffers have smoked the “pipe of peace” in the big wigwam at Springfield, Mass., and peace reigns.” The company also made peace with the Building Trades Council.
One can tell from the list of publications below that once the men began the strike their Union brethren from all trades supported them wholeheartedly, and when an equitable settlement was reached they were as quick to forgive and publicize that as well. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the company’s Union troubles, but by then George Hendee had left the company and was concentrating on raising cows and chickens on his farm. [See previous post]
“The Plasterer”. July 1914.
“The Carpenter”. July, 1914.
“The Shoe Workers’ Journal”. July 1914.
“The Journal of the Switchmen’s Union of North America”. Sept. 1914.
“International Stereotypers’ and Electrotypers’ Union Journal”. March 1914.
“Stove Mounters’ & Range Workers’ Journal”. March 1914.
“Our Journal”. Aug. 1914.
“Machinists’ Monthly Journal”. Dec. 1917.
“Glassworker: Official Organ of the Amalgamated Glassworker”. Sept. 1914.
“The Boilermakers’ Journal”. Sept. 1914.
“Railway Carmen’s Journal”. July 1914.
“The Tobacco Worker”. July 1914.
“The Stone Cutters’ Journal”. March 1914.
“Plumbers, Gas, and Steam Fitters Journal”. Sept. 1914.
“The Painter and Decorator”. March 1914.
“Sheet Metal Workers’ Journal”. March 15, 1914.